Breath. Body. Alignment. Mat.
I can hear my breath again.
No music. No mirrors. No added heat. No extra talking.
I have found my way back home.
I started yoga in 1998 when I lived in San Francisco. There was a studio at the end of my street. Less than half a block away. As if that wasn't divine intervention.
One of my girlfriends who also lived in the neighborhood asked me to go with her to a class. "I am really not into to yoga", I said. "I want to sweat". All I can say to that comment looking back is, hahaha, you thought you weren't going to sweat eh?
I reluctantly went to a class with her. I cried the entire Savasana. That was 17 years ago.
The studio on the street I lived on in San Francisco was called San Francisco Astanga Yoga Studio. Appropriate. It is that simple. No mirrors. No music. No bells. No whistles. It was and still is a one room studio. No hard wood floors. Meir Leshem is the owner and the only teacher. I am forever grateful that this was my introduction to this practice.
It is simply your breath and body.
I practiced Astanga Yoga seriously until I left SF in '02. It was disciplined, formatted and intense and it pushed me to my limits and sometimes beyond them. I needed to know that my body and mind were internally strong. Oh yes, my Astanga practice gave me that and then some.
When I moved to NYC in '02 I looked for an Astanga studio and found one in the East Village, where I lived at the time, but wasn't feeling drawn take a class there. I found myself seeking something different from the environment. Perhaps the intensity of NYC provoked a desire with in me for something softer.
One day when I was in midtown I stumbled upon a studio called "Be Yoga". Feeling drawn to it, I walked in the building, got on the elevator to go to the studio and on the ride up, I knew immediately that this was my next home. The tone and the texture of 'Be Yoga' was familiar in an unfamiliar and very exciting city. I probably cried.
I spent a handful of years committed to this practice. Enough to receive my 500 hour teacher training certificate and much more. ISHTA yoga is the Integrated Science of Hatha Tantra and Ayurveda. This practice introduced me to a new way of seeing yoga and seeing myself as a part of it. Each body is different. Each body can and will do different things. Alan Finger, the founder of ISHTA, studied with all the 'bigs' and formed an integrated practice from there. I was given a phenomenal education. Looking back it feels large in it's scope and forgiving in its essence. It was definitely the right one at the right time. I learned how to meditate and how to use my breath to benefit my mind, how to incorporate the practices of ayurveda - the science of life - into my own life, and I was given a taste of tantric philosophy, which upon my next endeavor would be the creme de la creme or the cherry on top of it all so to speak. I'll get there in a minute. ISHTA was and still is a big part of who I am.
When I left NYC for Boulder in '06, I once again stepped into new terrain. Anusara was to be my next home. I don't want to go into the shadow of this practice, but I will just say there was one - the system as I knew it has since disintegrated. That was hard to watch. I felt the shadow immediately, and so I stayed peripheral with it, however I soaked in the raw knowledge of this system like a sponge. Because it spoke to me. Loudly. Yes, my body mind and heart were ready for this. The Anusara system is a direct hit to nature. Body performs like nature does because body is nature. My reverence for the natural world grew stronger as I started to intellectually understand on top of already knowing deeply how connected we are.
Anusara also sent me right into the hands of Rajanaka, and am forever grateful that this path led me here. Rajanaka is a form of tantric philosophy. There are no poses. There are millions of stories. Rajanaka goes something like this, 'I am not you, I am something like you, I am nothing but you'. All three at the same time. To say that my mind was not blown open after the first time I sat with Douglas Brooks would be a colossal lie. My mind was BLOWN OPEN. To say that the understanding of living in a fractal world that is that much more rich and flavorful knowing how ancient hindu myths and the order of the universe lend their stories to the various truths of who we are, would be like saying I have never stepped into the rabbit hole, which I totally did when I started studying this stuff. This is THE stuff. I definitely cried the first time I heard Douglas speak. This information is more expansive than anything I did prior to try and expand. Yes, ANYTHING.
What I started to understand, is that yoga truly is body poetry. Yoga is story in motion. One yoga pose holds about one trillion different ways to see ourselves. Yoga IS the rabbit hole.
Somewhere along the way, as I stepped more fully into dance, I stopped doing a lot yoga asana (the poses). I dropped in from time to time to a class here or there but I was, for the most part, uninspired by the way the poses were taught. I was uninspired by the really loud music. I was uninspired by the pedestals. I was uninspired by the mirrors. When I could feel my body needing the practice I knew so deeply, I set up shop in the back of a room and did my own thing. I was asked to leave some classes along the way and given enough dirty looks and snide comments that I stopped counting.
But, yoga IS my home, and it was okay that I wasn't doing adho mukha savasana every day anymore. It was and is infused into my cells. Forever.
Yoga is home. Yoga is union. Yoga is the moment in between. The one with no noise. The one that has no label. The pause. The place where in breath marries out breath and the place where they come together and dance. It is the place of entanglement. The place of beauty. The place of messiness. The place of discovery. The place where there is nothing to know.
I remember I was asked once how I got into a really tough pose in front of a class and I said, 'my breath'. That was not the answer the asker was looking for. They wanted to know what i DID to get there. Nothing, that's the point. Of course, I know the alignment. I especially know it on a larger scale after studying many systems, and for my body specifically, after studying it for so long. And I can also help you find it in yours. Those really tough poses though...the ones 99.9% of the population can't get into, there's a reason why. It's because there are no words to explain how to go there. There is breath and there is body obeying breath deeply, which is called faith and surrender. Together. Not blind faith. Not limp surrender. This is active surrender folks. It's not easy. It is the razors edge.
For a couple of years now, probably the same amount of time I knew I needed to leave my job for, I have known I needed to return back to Astanga. No mirrors. No music. One room. Astanga with a twist here in Boulder, just as I like it.
This week, I started going back. I returned back to the practice that started my practice seventeen years ago.
So here I am, back in THAT practice with these deep stories of the poses (Rajanaka) and the knowledge of the natural world and how it translates into my body (Anusara) and an understanding of my own body constitution (ISHTA). This allows me to step back to the practice in a new way. I am not seduced by all of the jump backs that make my vata mind go bonkers anymore, and I am not anxious about getting the poses 'right'. I don't care if I can get into a bind or grab my feet with my hands twisted behind my back.
I care that I know how to use my tailbone to protect my back now.
I care that I understand that twisting is going to be detoxifying to my mind, body and heart.
I care that I know what it actually means to fold my hands in front of my heart.
I also care deeply that this practice is ancient.
It is revered. It is important. It is not bells and it is not whistles.
It is my body. It is my breath. It is my mat.
It is my practice of a practice.
Breath. Body. Alignment. Mat.
I can hear my breath again.